It used to be a kind of cruel joke twenty years ago when some of us tried to pretend Africa might rise to the level of a strategic interest, but thanks to the oil deposits we're finding every day in and near Africa, I can say with a straight face 30 per cent of our oil will come from there, and I promise you it is a strategic interest.
[U.S. Assistant Sec. of State for African Affairs, Charles Snyder]
(PART 1) In researching these posts, I was struck by a familiar pattern: the state actors (here, an officer of the US Armed Forces; the US State Department) insist that the problem is a defense issue, and therefore requires/justifies extraordinary diligence; the NGOs, of which the International Crisis Group is a reasonable example, imply that this is an economic issue, motivated by the strategic need of the USA for oil. The rhetoric by conscientious civil servants is overblown, perhaps by misinformation, perhaps by an insidious desire to enhance their agency's global influence.
In fact, US government officials have seldom been especially shy about spelling out their economic agenda: usually cabinet officials, in private venues, have been quite explicit that they are concerned with American access to oil or capital markets; only the President himself is squeamish about saying so, and only he when in an international spotlight. So we have been warned: the security interest in Africa is economic; officialdom has a strong stake in exaggerating the terrorist threat, simply because insecurity of that nature is regarded as legitimate, while economic insecurity is not a legitimate grounds for military action.
At the same time, the NGOs have been obligated to acknowledge that North Africa is, in many respects, an ideal venue for terrorist attacks on Europe or North America.
This leads us now to the question I have been struggling with:
Is the current build-up of Western assistance [sic] in the region a prudential measure, directed at a legitimate terrorist threat, or is it a strategy for securing control over the region for other strategic reasons? Is the object to ensure the USA remains relevant to the EU as the only plausible guardian in this most strategic border zone, or is the object to eliminate a "No-Go" zone where bona fide terrorist organizations can marshall operations aginst our crucial European allies?
THE PAN-SAHEL INITIATIVE (PSI)
In October '02, the US Department of State began implementing a program of assisting the militaries of the Sahel Region: Mali, Niger, Mauritania, and Chad. This initiative was actually very small: $6.25 million for training the militaries of these four countries. However, it was accompanied by numerous other security-related programs, on the order of tens of millions, for each country (see links for individual countries).
Global Security: Sahel countries Mauritania, Mali, Niger, and Chad are devoting more resources to improve their counterterrorism capabilities. These countries also participate in the US-sponsored Pan-Sahel Initiative (PSI), a program designed to assist those nations in protecting their borders, combating terrorism, and enhancing regional stability. Components of the program are intended to encourage the participating countries to cooperate with each other against smuggling and trafficking in persons, as well as in the sharing of information. The State Department funded and currently supervises the program, which has included providing equipment and training by US European Command (EUCOM) trainers to Sahel country military units. The United States has also provided counterterrorism training for senior police and other officials from eastern and southern Africa at the International Law Enforcement Academy in Gaborone, Botswana.
In the event, the government of Mauritania has been the most egregious about abusing the putative Global War on Terror (GWoT) for the advantage of the regime itself. The ICG Report, "Islamist Terrorism in the Sahel: Fact or Fiction?" (PDF, p.16) contrasts it with Mali: Mali, with the larger population, nonetheless has a vast sparsely populated region to the north with a now-dormant Tuareg insurgency. Both governments have notionally Islamic regimes, but Mali has a thriving opposition, while the Islamist opposition to Mauritanian Pres. Ould Taya regime is in jail, or in exile; in Mali, the Islamist radicalism seems to to come from outside Saudi or Pakistani money. Special attention is given to the role of Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program (who made an immense fortune trafficking in WMD); and also to the persistance of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (in French, GSPC), a splinter of which has been blamed for the 3/11/04 attack on the Madrid train station. The GSPC apparently has a stream of income that allows it to buy cooperation from locals in N. Mali, but there is little evidence of domestic Malian support for the organization.
THE TRANS-SAHARAN COUNTERTERRORISM INITIATIVE
Beginning in 2005, the US State Department and the Pentagon replaced the PSI with the vastly larger Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Initiative, which affects nine countries (the PSI plus Morocco, Algeria, Senegal, Nigeria, and Tunisia). This new campaign not only involves 17 times the budget, but also direct transfers of medium-level military hardware, such as walkie talkies, Toyota trucks, early-model rocket launchers, and office machinery.
The TSCTI and USAID in the region now are attempting to redress the limited central spending on social services in the countryside of these countries. Mali, for example, depends heavily on foreign aid for the better part of its capital spending; in the 1980's, it suffered an insurgency from the Tuareg Berbers in the North. According to the ICG, the construction of schools and clinics have helped meliorate the resentment, although it's also likely that the period of open insurgency was simply halted by a tribal allegiance. In addition to anxieties about terrorism (that might be directed against the EU), there is the more plausible risk of piracy and sabotage for payola. "People smuggling" is very big business, and as the volume of humans smuggled into developed countries for employment increases, there will be an enthusiasm in by Western governments to send law enforcement forces into the region. For decades, advanced nations have tended to put pressure on developing ones to collude in preventing smuggling; efforts to stop illegal immigration to the EU have already spilled over into Africa, and probably will do so even more.
STRATEGIC IMPERIALISM TODAY
In my essay on Strategic Imperialism, I explained that there were three reasons for strategic imperialism:
The die-hard supporters of the late invasion fo Iraq are stuck defending staretgic imperialism. Removing Saddam, they are obligated to say, preserved the USA from future terrorism. As long as we want to avoid terrorism against the USA, just so long must we ensure that a friendly regime prevails in Iraq. In Africa, the offical statements for consumption abroad are that our operations in Africa serve to ensure that organizations such as the GPSC may never again launch attacks against Spain. At the same time, American nationals are warned that the flow of oil from North Africa is great, getting greater, and ought to be ensured. European citizens are reminded that their social systems are coming under stress by the torrential [sic] influx of immigrants, legal or otherwise, and stern measures are required to make it stop. "Stern measures," of course, includes European or North American agents operating out of countries that supply refugees. We've seen the same policy applied to drugs, of carrying the "War on Drugs" to the countries where trafficking and cutlivation occur.
While international cooperation is an indispensible part of fighting crime, or fighting transnational terrorism, what I am talking about is not cooperation, but creeping occupation. The ICG papers I'e cited have taken a soft line on the matter, confining themselves to urging the USA and the foreign acotrs in the region to give more aid for capital improvements and to be more alive to the variatioons in Islamicist ideology (not all, or even the majority, of Islamicists are terror threats). I believe, however, that the USA and the EU are likely to become habituated to bribing the states of North Africa into accepting massive interference and harassment of their citizens by foreigners.
(To be continued)
SOURCES: In addition to thoses found in my previous entry, I am also indebted to SourceWatch (Center for Media & Democracy); the World War 4 Report; and a Romanian weblog called "Flogging the Simian."
Also vital: the Center for Defense Information (CDI), an NGO; and the EIN Country Reports (Arab Maghreb Union; Chad; West Africa), a service of the US Department of Energy; and, of course, the CIA World Fact Book (Algeria, Burkina Faso, Gambia, Guinea-Conakry, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Tunisia). From the EIN country reports, we learn that Chad, Niger, Mauritania and Senegal are new energy producers; however, within ECOWAS, only Nigeria is a net exporter. Algeria is the world's 2nd largest exporter of LNG, and a major oil exporter; Morocco may possess tremendous untapped reserves, particularly in the unilaterally-occupied Western Sahara. Tunisia is, like Morocco, a net energy importer; Tunisia once was a net exporter, but since has become reliant chiefly on tourism for export revenues.